Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dennis Blair: Corporatist Candidate for Director of National Intelligence

The Wall Street Journal reported in its December 19 edition, that President-elect Barack Obama is slated to choose retired Vice Admiral Dennis Blair as his Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

Blair's choice as DNI would further cement Pentagon control over America's intelligence apparatus. Currently, Air Force Lt. General Michael V. Hayden, a former Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) is CIA Director while retired Vice Admiral and former chief at NSA, Mike McConnell is the current Director of the Office of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the chief of America's 16 spy agencies.

The DNI position was established after Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-458), one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that "investigated" the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Agencies overseen by the ODNI include: the Central Intelligence Agency; Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency; Army Military Intelligence; Defense Intelligence Agency; Marine Corps Intelligence Activity; National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; National Reconnaissance Office; National Security Agency; Office of Naval Intelligence; the Department of Energy's Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence and Coast Guard Intelligence; the Department of Justice's Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration; the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; and the Treasury Department's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

Half of the agencies comprising the "Intelligence Community" over which the ODNI has statutory authority are embedded within the Pentagon. But this doesn't quite tell the tale. ODNI is headquartered in McClean, Virginia, the capitol of militarist corporate grift. It employs some 1,500 people, largely drawn from the world of private intelligence contractors where top secret and above security clearances are marketable commodities. As investigative journalist Tim Shorrock wrote in his essential study, Spies for Hire:

The bulk of this $50 billion [intelligence budget] is serviced by one hundred companies... The analogy between the intelligence industry and the military-industrial complex famously described by President Eisenhower in 1961 is fitting. By 2006, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 70 percent, or almost three-quarters, of the intelligence budget was spent on contracts. That astounding figure...means that the vast majority of the money spent by the Intelligence Community is not going into building an expert cadre within government but to creating a secret army of analysts and action officers inside the private sector. (Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008, pp. 12-13)

Among the firms embedded at ODNI are corporate heavy-hitters such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Booz Allen Hamilton and SAIC. A glance at the Project on Government Oversight's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (FCMD) find all four firms prominently on display.

Like McConnell, a ten-year veteran of the spooky Booz Allen Hamilton corporation where he served as a senior vice president overseeing the firm's extensive contracts in the intelligence and national security areas, Blair currently sits on the boards of Tyco International, Iridium Satellite and the Center for New American Security, "a Washington think tank from which several Obama advisers hail," according to the Journal.

Obama's choice for ODNI is well-placed to continue the mercenary "tradition" of intelligence outsourcing and what one can only describe as the corporatization of government. According to the Journal, some of the "tougher intelligence issues" the incoming Obama administration seeks to resolve "is weighing whether to propose the creation of a domestic intelligence agency," modeled after Britain's MI5.

That's worked out well in the UK, just ask the Irish! As investigative journalist Neil Mackay has documented in Glasgow's Sunday Herald, both MI5 and the British Army's Force Research Unit (FRU) ran Ulster's neofascist hit-squads during the dirty war period in Northern Ireland,

Our investigations show that far from merely "turning" terrorists to work for the state, British military intelligence actually created loyalist murder gangs to operate as proxy assassins. They even cleared areas in which the gangs were operating of police and army, to allow them to carry out their hits and escape. ("How Britain created Ulster's murder gangs," Sunday Herald, 28 January 2007)

Among the more stellar accomplishments of FRU and MI5 were the assassinations of civil rights attorneys Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. Both were killed under "suspicious" circumstances. Finucane was shot and killed in front of his children in 1989, Nelson was the victim of a brutal car bomb attack a decade later. Responsibility for the murders were claimed respectively, by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVA). Both groups were under the operational control of FRU/MI5 handlers.

More recently, members of the special police unit (SO19) which murdered Brazilian immigrant Jean Charles de Menezes in the aftermath of al-Qaeda's July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks in London, were trained by the British Army's Special Reconnaissance Regiment, comprised of veterans who worked closely with SAS, MI5, FRU and Special Branch hit squads in Northern Ireland.

Like his British counterparts, Admiral Blair had more than a passing acquaintance with brutal counterinsurgency operations. Until his 2002 retirement from the Navy, Blair was the Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC). His tenure in that post however, was not without controversy.

During the 1999 East Timorese scorched-earth campaign by the Indonesian military (TNI) and rightist militias controlled by the Army, Blair was instructed by President Clinton to demand that Indonesian Armed Forces Commander General Wiranto, shut down the death-squad operation. According to investigative journalist Allan Nairn, "the US military has, behind the scenes and contrary to Congressional intent, been backing the TNI." Nairn reported that according to a leaked top secret cable, Blair continued the Pentagon's policy of "constructive engagement" with the murderous Indonesian military.

According to the cable, which was drafted by Col. Joseph Daves, US military attaché in Jakarta, Admiral Blair "told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time when [the army will] resume its proper role as a leader in the region. He invited General Wiranto to come to Hawaii as his guest in conjunction with the next round of bilateral defense discussions in the July-August '99 time frame. He said Pacific command is prepared to support a subject matter expert exchange for doctrinal development. He expects that approval will be granted to send a small team to provide technical assistance to police and...selected TNI personnel on crowd control measures."

Admiral Blair at no point told Wiranto to stop the militia operation, going the other way by inviting him to be his personal guest in Hawaii. Blair told Wiranto that the United States would initiate this new riot-control training for the Indonesian armed forces. ("US complicity in Timor," The Nation, September 9, 1999)

None of this is surprising, however. When the TNI seized power in 1965 in a violent takeover that murdered some 500,000-1,000,000 Indonesians accused of being "communists," a monstrous purge repeated in 1975 when the TNI invaded East Timor with blessings from Washington, the CIA and the Pentagon were in the thick of it. As national security analyst William Blum documented in Killing Hope,

Twenty-five years later, American diplomats disclosed that they had systematically compiled comprehensive lists of "Communist" operatives, from top echelons down to village cadres, and turned over more than 5,000 names to the Indonesian army, which hunted those persons down and killed them. The Americans would then check off the names of those who had been killed or captured. Robert Martens, a former member of the US Embassy's political section in Jakarta, stated in 1990: "It was really a big help to the army. They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad. There's a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment."

"No one cared, as long as they were Communists, that they were being butchered, said Howard Federspiel, who in 1965 was the Indonesian expert at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. "No one was getting very worked up about it." (Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 194)

Nor does it appear anyone is "getting very worked up about it" today.

Blair's cosy relationship with Indonesia's murderous generals is referred to delicately in a Washington Post puff piece that claims the retired Admiral "is likely to face Senate questions about his role in maintaining U.S. military ties with Indonesia's military during a period in which it engaged in human rights violations."

In the Pacific, he butted heads with the State Department and Congress over his desire to maintain ties with the Indonesian military despite its human rights record and its involvement in East Timor atrocities. "Militaries that are doing something bad at times go into their shell," he said at the time. "It's them against the world." A more fruitful strategy, he insisted, is to make them feel a kinship with professional militaries. (Dana Priest, "Blair Is Steeped in the Ways Intelligence Works," The Washington Post, December 20, 2008, A04)

Nairn, the only Western journalist remaining in East Timor during the period, described how the TNI was "doing something bad at the time," and why Blair was instructed to drop a dime on the generals:

The gravity of the meeting was heightened by the fact that two days before, the militias had committed a horrific machete massacre at the Catholic church in Liquiça, Timor. YAYASAN HAK, a Timorese human rights group, estimated that many dozens of civilians were murdered. Some of the victims' flesh was reportedly stuck to the walls of the church and a pastor's house. But Admiral Blair, fully briefed on Liquiça, quickly made clear at the meeting with Wiranto that he was there to reassure the TNI chief. According to a classified cable on the meeting, circulating at Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, Blair, rather than telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, instead offered him a series of promises of new US assistance. (Nairn, op. cit.)

Given the U.S. military's atrocious record in Afghanistan and Iraq, one can appreciate how Admiral Blair would have wished that the TNI "feel a kinship with professional militaries."

Business as Usual

If there's one inescapable conclusion that can be drawn from the dodgy culture of cronyism and corruption that pervades Washington, journalist Daniel Hopsicker hits the nail on its proverbial head: "Being connected means never having to say your sorry." Where does Admiral Blair fit in to the mix?

Blair served as the President of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), which describes itself as "a non-profit corporation that administers three federally funded research and development centers to provide objective analyses of national security issues." However, according to the Journal,

he didn't recuse himself from involvement in a study of a contract for the F-22 fighter jet. At the time, he was sitting on the board of a subcontractor on that program, EDO Corp. The inspector general found in a 2006 report that Mr. Blair violated the institute's conflict-of-interest standards but didn't influence the outcome for the study. Mr. Blair resigned from IDA over the matter, and he also stepped down from the EDO board. (Siobhan Gorman, "Obama Picks Military Man, Blair, as Top Spymaster," The Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2008)

Sounds like more "change" from the "change president" to me! But other conflicts of interest are more troubling.

Iridium Satellite LLC, is a privately held firm based in Bethesda, Maryland and is one of a nexus of companies that have extensive contracts with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the ultra-spooky outfit that designs and flies America's fleet of military spy satellites. As ODNI, Blair would oversee NRO operations. As Tim Shorrock reported,

With an estimated $8 billion annual budget, the largest in the IC, contractors control about $7 billion worth of business at NRO, giving the spy satellite industry the distinction of being the most privatized part of the Intelligence Community (Spies for Hire, op. cit., p. 16)

Iridium, according to its website, maintains a "constellation" of "66 low-earth orbiting (LEO), cross-linked satellites operating as a fully meshed network and supported by multiple in-orbit spares. It is the largest commercial satellite constellation in the world."

According to the firm, "through its own gateway in Hawaii, the U.S. DoD relies on Iridium for global communications capabilities." Additionally, its Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services (EMSS) "is a DoD enhancement" that provides "end-to-end encryption" through DoD's EMSS gateway for improved communications through the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN).

When the company was sold by Motorola after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2000, current CEO Dan Colussy stepped in and rescued the firm from oblivion. Iridium went for a bargain price. Colussy's group of investors, according to USA Today paid $25 million for a company that cost Motorola some $5 billion to create. Talk about a fire sale!

But what Admiral Blair and other Iridium board members are not likely to trumpet during Senate hearings, USA Today reported in 2003,

In an odd twist, the new Iridium is 24% owned by an investment firm controlled by Prince Khalid bin Abdullah bin Abdulrahman of Saudi Arabia.

The prince used to own a minority chunk of the old Iridium in partnership with the Saudi Binladen Group, the company run by Osama bin Laden's family. So in a way, some of the money that gave a start to the world's most notorious terrorist partly funded a communications system helping the U.S. military blast Saddam's army. Now that's globalization. (Kevin Maney, "Remember those 'Iridium's going to fail' jokes? Prepare to eat your hat," USA Today, April 9, 2003)

Depending on one's point of view there's nothing odd at all, just business as usual!

The company's board of directors include, among others, Chairman of Iridium Holdings LLC, Dan Colussy, former CEO of United Nuclear Corporation and Chairman and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the defunct Pan American World Airlines. According to William Blum's definitive account, "Pan Am has a long history of collaboration with the CIA." Dennis Blair. Alvin B. "Buzzy" Krongard, the former Chairman of the Board of the investment banking firm Alex Brown Incorporated and Executive Director of the CIA. Steven Pfeiffer, a senior partner and Chair of the Executive Committee of the high-powered law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski. Tom Ridge, the former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and two-term Governor of Pennsylvania. Lest we forget, amongst Ridge's other "accomplishments" was his 1999 signing of a death warrant for framed-up journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, while Jamal's case was on appeal.

Pretty "smart" company Blair keeps! Which just goes to prove, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!


kelley b. said...

I like your work. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) is opposing a Blair nomination as intel chief. See here for the details.